Highlights of London Wine Fair

London remains the world’s biggest wine market and the London Wine Fair, held each year in May, offers a chance to sample new and classic wines. For publication in week of 16 May 2016.

Fair director Ross Carter noted that first-time exhibitors from countries “yet to be established on the vinous map” tended to create the fair’s diversity.

Wines from Kazakhstan appeared for the first time under the Arba label. Zeinulla Kakimzhanov, a former government minister turned viniculturalist, chose to revive wine culture in his country 16 years ago. He planted international varieties and renovated abandoned vineyards that had indigenous grapes. The wines tasted were from the Assa Valley, east of Kazakhstan’s commercial capital Almaty along the highway to China, grown at 1,000 metres.

Vine cuttings were brought to the country from neighbouring China and Uzbekistan in the seventh century AD. Kazakhstan has freezing winters but the cold kills diseases. Local bury the vines in winter to protect them.

Memorable wines from indigenous grapes included the 2013 Arba Rkatsiteli, a zingy dry white, and the 2013 Arba Saperavi, a pleasant red. The Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc from international grapes also stood out. All are organic wines from ungrafted rootstock.

From the new to the old: The inspiring Dr Ernst Loosen presented some of his Grosse Gewachs wines from his best parcels of old vines, many more than a century old. He suggested that Grosse Gewachs were Germany’s equivalent of France’s grand cru hierarchy.

These Rieslings are stored in old 1,000-litre casks known as “Fuder”. They remain on the lees from 12 to 36 months and are then stored in bottle for a year before release. “This ensures the wine has structure for a long life,” he said.

The 2011 Urziger Wurzgarten Grosse Gewachs spends 12 months in barrel, the 2011 Urziger Wurzgarten Grosse Gewachs Reserve 24 months, and the 2011 Urziger Wurzgarten Grosse Gewachs Hommage 36 months. The vineyard’s name means the spice garden of Urzig and a sustained spicey character is noticeable. “High iron content gives the soil its lively red colour and a spicy minerality to the wines.”

These nuanced joys are designed to be cellared for decades. They currently feel restrained but their potential is very apparent. In a way the wines are an acknowledgement of earlier times: “In the past people had more time,” Dr Loosen said. “This gave them a chance to experiment, though they needed to be patient.”

Impressive pinots from Switzerland were also on show at the fair. The wines are expensive because of the high cost of labour, and the fact most estates are small. The Swiss are major consumers of wine, among the top 10 in the world in terms of consumption per head. Almost three in five bottles sold are red with pinot the most planted variety. Switzerland’s total area for viticulture is smaller than Champagne, but 28 per cent of the country’s vines are devoted to Pinot Noir.

The 2012 Flascher Weinbau Hermann from Graubunden has a delicious and tangy nose, full of red and black fruits and spices, with soft tannins. It comes from vines planted at 540 metres. At this altitude in some parts of the world such as the UK it would not be possible even to ripen an apple, noted Joelle Nebbe-Mornod of Alpine Wines, a Swiss who lives in the UK.

The 2011 Domaine de Montmollin Auvernier from the Neuchatel region offers loads of bright red fruit and a perfumed nose. Neuchatel was part of Burgundy several centuries ago. The 2013 Weingut zur Sonne-Obrecht Monolith is also from Graubunden but a different village, Jenins. This is where the fictional character Heidi from the eponymous novel lived. It offers a beautiful balance of acid and fruit with gentle tannins and a long follow through.

Pinot Noir is one of humanity’s oldest grapes and these wines show how it has settled into a perfect habitat in Switzerland. All three are subtle wines, reflecting the Swiss style.

Other impressive pinots from the American state of Oregon were also available. All are from the Willamette Valley, which has a similar climate to Burgundy. In 1970 Oregon had only five wineries and about 14 hectares of vines. By 2006 the state had 9,694 hectares and 605 wineries. As in Switzerland Pinot Noir dominates with about 62 per cent of the state’s vines planted to that variety.

Oregon’s climate is maritime: Mild with dry, warm summers and wet winters. Half of the rain each year falls between December and February, and it receives about the same amount as Burgundy, about 1,200mm a year.

As in Burgundy, vintages vary considerably – 2012 was warm compared with the previous two years. It produced healthy fruit and was “pretty much a perfect year,” noted Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW. She is editor in-chief of Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, and based in California’s Napa Valley. The next year had a dry summer but received record rain in September. This produced “mixed results,” she said.

Good winemakers can produce great wine even in difficult years, and the 2013 J. Christopher is delicate, refined and perfumed. This pretty wine is the result of sensitive wine making. So is the 2013 Colene Clemens Victoria which is firm and full of flavour with a delicious range of savoury elements mixed with spices and pot pourri aromas.

Words: 901

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